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Carter v. New Venture Gear

September 26, 2007

REBA CARTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW VENTURE GEAR, INC., DAIMLERCHRYSLER CORP., MIKE ALLEN AS PRESIDENT OF UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA LOCAL 624, STEPHEN YOKICH AS PRESIDENT OF UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

In this action alleging racial and sexual discrimination and harassment, there are two motions presently before the Court: first, a motion for summary judgment by defendants New Venture Gear, Inc. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. (collectively, "NVG") (Dkt. No. 101), and second, a motion for summary judgment by defendants Mike Allen as President of United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America Local 624, and Stephen Yokich as President of United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (collectively, "union") (Dkt. No. 103). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motions and dismisses the second amended complaint on the merits.

SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT

Plaintiff, an African-American woman, commenced this action on November 15, 2000. In her second amended complaint (Dkt. No. 16), she alleges that during the course of her employment at NVG from July 2, 1984 to October 15, 1999, she suffered racial discrimination, disparate treatment, and racial and sexual harassment. The second amended complaint alleges discriminatory incidents as follows: in April 1999 her department was awarded a bonus, which was shared with everyone but plaintiff; in May 1999 she was reprimanded for making bad parts, although she was not responsible; and in July 1999, despite her seniority, she was moved from her machine job to another job. She further alleges that NVG's conduct has created a system of disparate treatment wherein "incidents reported by Black employees are ignored or not dealt with[, and] ... similarly treated non-Black employees are not treated in such a manner." She avers that she was subjected to racially motivated comments and epithets, physical threats, and assaults by white co-workers, but when she complained to NVG management officials they did not respond or brushed off the incidents as "horseplay." She also claims that she was subjected to sexual harassment by a supervisor, Mark Trzonkowski. As against the union, of which she was a dues-paying member, plaintiff avers that whenever she requested union representation, the union steward, Gil Odjick, would fail to respond or refuse to provide adequate representation.

The first cause of action is against NVG for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"). The second cause of action is against NVG under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("section 1981"). The third cause of action is against the union based on section 1981. The fourth and fifth causes of action are against the union for unlawful labor practices under 29 U.S.C. §§ 158 and 185. The remaining causes of action are New York State law claims for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract.

APPLICABLE LAW

Summary judgment is appropriate "where there exists no genuine issue of material fact and, based on the undisputed facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Beth Israel Med. Ctr. v. Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.J., Inc., 448 F.3d 573, 579 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence is such that "a reasonable [factfinder] could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, a court must resolve all ambiguities, and draw all inferences, against the movant. See United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

The Local Rules of the Northern District provide a procedural framework for the resolution of summary judgment motions, placing the burden on the parties to present the evidence that either supports or defeats the motion. The movant must first submit a Statement of Material Facts setting forth the undisputed facts upon which it relies and specific citations to the record where each fact is established. See N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3). The court must satisfy itself that the cited record evidence supports the movant's assertions of fact and that those facts show that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. New York State Teamsters Conf. Pension and Ret. Fund v. Express Servs., Inc., 426 F.3d 640, 649 (2d Cir. 2005).

Once the movant submits a properly supported Statement of Material Facts, the non-moving party must file a response thereto. "Any facts set forth in the [movant's] Statement of Material Facts shall be deemed admitted unless specifically controverted by the opposing party." N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3). The Second Circuit has endorsed this rule, noting: "Rules governing summary judgment practice are essential tools for district courts, permitting them to efficiently decide summary judgment motions by relieving them of the onerous task of 'hunt[ing] through voluminous records without guidance from the parties.'" Id. (citing Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., 258 F.3d 62, 74 (2d Cir. 2001)) (alteration in original).

NVG'S MOTION

Race Discrimination

As noted, plaintiff alleges three discriminatory incidents. First, she claims that in April 1999 her department was awarded a bonus, which was shared with everyone but plaintiff. Second, she claims that in May 1999 she was reprimanded for making bad parts, although she was not responsible. Third, she claims that in July 1999 (the correct date is October 14, 1999), despite her seniority, she was moved from her machine job to another job.

The legal standard applied to claims of race discrimination under Title VII is the same as that applied to section 1981 claims. The Court analyzes plaintiff's race discrimination claims under the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). The first step requires the plaintiff to prove a prima facie case of discrimination by showing (1) membership in a protected class; (2) possession of basic skills necessary for the job; (3) an adverse employment action; and (4) circumstances giving rise to an inference of race discrimination. See Slattery v. Swiss Reins. Am. Corp., 248 F.3d 87, 91 (2d Cir. 2001).

Where a plaintiff has made out a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. See Bickerstaff v. Vassar College, 196 F.3d 435, 446 (2d Cir. 1999). The defendant's burden of production is not a demanding one; it need only offer an explanation for the employment decision. Id.

The burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to show "that the proffered reason was not the true reason for the employment decision, and that race was." Id. (internal quote omitted). "The plaintiff's opportunity to demonstrate that the employer's proffered reason was false [then] merges with her ultimate burden to persuade the trier of fact that she has been the victim of intentional discrimination (i.e., that an illegal discriminatory reason played a motivating role in the adverse employment decision)." Id. at 446-47.

Applying the first step of the McDonnell Douglas analysis to the case at bar, the Court notes that NVG does not dispute that plaintiff is a member of a protected class and that she has made the minimal showing needed to satisfy the second element of the test. See Slattery, 248 F.3d at 92. Rather, NVG argues that, with respect to all three allegedly discriminatory incidents, plaintiff fails to meet the both the third and fourth elements, because there is no evidence of any adverse employment action, nor is there evidence of any circumstances giving rise to an inference of race discrimination. It further argues that, assuming that plaintiff has made out a prima facie case, NVG has met its burden of articulating a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions, and that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that the reason given was not the true reason for the employment decision and that race was. Thus, NVG argues, plaintiff has not met her ultimate burden of showing that she has been the victim of intentional discrimination.

Addressing first the claim that in April 1999 plaintiff's department was awarded a bonus, which was shared with everyone but plaintiff, defendants adduce an affidavit from Andrew J. Quinn, who was Human Resources Coordinator and then Labor Relations Representative at NVG during the times in question. Quinn's responsibilities included personnel issues such as termination, discipline, labor relations, and benefits, as well as investigating complaints of discrimination and harassment. Quinn agrees that plaintiff did not receive a share of the bonus, but affirms that plaintiff was not entitled to do so. He explains that eligibility depended on the employee's active employment during the time leading up to the bonus, and that plaintiff's absences from work, including an extended absence from October 20, 1998 to March 22, 1999, disqualified her from receiving the bonus. Plaintiff appears to have abandoned this claim on this motion. In any event, plaintiff makes no showing that this action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination; thus, she fails to make out a prima facie case. Moreover, accepting arguendo that plaintiff has made out a prima facie case, NVG has shown a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the incident, and plaintiff presents no evidence that the reason is false and that the real reason is discrimination. This claim lacks merit as a matter of law.

With respect to plaintiff's claim that in May 1999 she was reprimanded for making bad parts although she was not responsible, defendants establish by way of Quinn's affidavit that NVG has no record of any such disciplinary action. Even assuming she was given a written reprimand, this without more does not constitute adverse employment action. Plaintiff apparently has abandoned this claim. Plaintiff presents no evidence that the reprimand had any adverse effect on her employment or that it occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. Moreover, accepting arguendo that plaintiff has made out a prima facie case, plaintiff presents no evidence that the reason for the reprimand was racial discrimination. This claim lacks merit as a matter of law.

Third, plaintiff claims that in July 1999, despite her seniority, she was moved from her machine job to another job. Quinn's affidavit shows that the change in plaintiff's job assignment from machine operator to a loading operation occurred not in July 1999, but on October 14, 1999, shortly after her ...


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